Kristen Cowher has a challenge for anyone who’s ever turned their nose at something labeled “gluten-free,” or those who argue that a cupcake, cookie or bagel just isn’t the same without flour.
Try Valley Girl Sweets.
The new Centre Hall business, at 409 S. Pennsylvania Ave., is where the Valley Girl herself (Penns Valley, that is) will have a full display case of freshly baked gluten-free goodies, in addition to a coffee shop. With the new bakery, Cowher is also able to continue making custom cakes (with and without gluten) and hopes to fill a void in the area.
“I hope to educate the community, too,” she said. “I want people to know that gluten-free doesn’t have to taste gross.”
Cowher knows just how important that is — her own gluten intolerance causes her to wear a mask when she does bake with flour. At the new shop, she has separate kitchens and two of everything. That increased the cost of renovations and setting up the new business, but Cowher said it was worth it to ensure the gluten-free items have no contamination.
“I understand people who can’t have it,” she said.
It wasn’t always Cowher’s dream to open her own business. And her passion for baking is only about 6 years old, developed after creating her own wedding cake. She went to school for graphic design but realized there was another area where she’d rather use her artistic ability.
“I decided to take my art into edible art,” she said. “I have a lot of fun doing it.”
Over the past few years, she’s built a following of customers looking for a special birthday cake or an elaborate wedding cake. Until now, she’s been baking at her Millheim home, and some of her favorites include a 3-D “zombified” little boy for his themed birthday party and a cake depicting Harley Quinn from the DC Comics world that traveled all the way to Florida.
“I love when I get pictures back of the kids smiling at their birthday parties, or brides next to their wedding cakes,” Cowher said.
She also aims to bake healthier alternatives, using no preservatives or artificial dyes.
Cowher and her husband have been working since April to get the Centre Hall location, a former hair salon, ready to open. She remembers the first time she noticed a “for lease” sign on the building and when her late nephew first gave her the idea to open her own shop.
“It worked out perfectly,” Cowher said. “I just had a strong pull to do this.”
The coffee shop will feature wine-infused coffee, fresh brewed teas and iced teas, and the space also includes a consultation area for cake orders and some tables for eating (or drinking) in.